Not a Walk in the Park: Creating a Safe Case for Jeff Koons' "Balloon Dog Plate (Red)"

Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog Plate (Red), recalls birthday parties and carnivals from childhood. The playful subject matter is in stark contrast with the appearance of a metallic medium. In actuality, the piece is made from porcelain with a specially designed metallic glaze, likely to resemble Koons’ 10 foot tall stainless steel Balloon Dog sculptures. An interesting and intriguing piece, its contradictory appearance and composition implores the viewer to touch the piece.

Born in York, Pennsylvania in 1955, Jeff Koons studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore before transferring to the School of the Art Institute in Chicago to complete his last year. He launched his career by working at the MoMA’s membership desk in New York and devoting his nights to creating art. Inspired by an earlier generation of Pop Art artists, his work often references popular media: smooth, metallic sculptures and paintings bursting with vivid, saturated colors. While he insists his work is void of hidden meaning or criticism, it no doubt holds a mirror to contemporary consumer culture.

The Conservation Center was recently tasked with creating a mount and display case for this 2000 edition Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog Plate (Red). The piece is one of an edition of 2,300 Balloon Dog Plates. As the finish and structure of the piece is extremely fragile and sensitive, it is quite the task to handle the piece and design a mount to properly house the piece to ensure it is preserved and protected.

The Center's mountmaker drew from his past experience with Koons’ pieces when tasked with fashioning a display mount for this piece. “I have seen many Balloon Dogs and we have developed an excellent mounting system that uses a polished, stainless steel mount and a mechanically removable top bracket.” He begins the process by thoroughly cleaning his workspace to eradicate any dust that might be in the area. Dust can potentially abrade the metallic finish on this delicate piece.

He then creates a foam form of the plate that contours to every curve of the piece so he can access the back while keeping the front supported and safe. This allows him to carefully measure the plate and start designing the mount with full access to the reverse of the plate.

The mount has three points of contact: two brackets at the bottom that contour the plate and grab the lip, and a third bracket at the top that locks in to place with a mechanical screw. The brackets are carefully padded with archival felt to ensure the surface of the plate is not touched by the bracket. This minimal structure ensures the piece is stable in the mount, while remaining noninvasive for the viewer. 

The majority of time and finesse in this process was spent contouring the brackets to the plate without physically touching the plate. “Because of the finish, it is an object you cannot touch. It’s a fragile little guy,” he explains. Next, The Center’s mountmaker attached the piece to the mount in one step: any missteps could result in damaging the object. Then he polished the stainless steel mount to a mirror finish to match the plate. The mount was then installed on a sealed linen stretcher before the plate was secured in the brackets. A UV-filtering acrylic vitrine was fabricated and installed over the stretcher and mount to protect the piece from dust and other environmental concerns.

Despite Balloon Dog Plate (Red)‘s playful and toy-like appearance, creating a safe case for this dog was no walk in the park. The Center had recently completed two of such display systems for Michael Lyons Wier of Lyons Wier Gallery in New York—an avid collector of Koons’s works for two decades. A tremendous amount of airborne dirt and grime were accumulating on the original display for Michael’s Balloon Dog plates.

Michael Lyons Wier's contemporary art objects display (view 1)

Michael Lyons Wier's contemporary art objects display (view 1)

Knowing the delicate nature of these Koons pieces, he turned to The Conservation Center for cleaning and encasement. “When the puppies were returned, I was astonished by how clean the plates were and delighted by the precision of custom armatures crafted to hold the plates in place in the vitrines,” Michael said. “They also encased three Bread With Egg pieces (also by Koons) that are lovingly nestled on custom cast metal bases.  Simply put, the work performed by The Center is amazing and precise.”

Michael Lyons Wier's contemporary art objects display (view 2)

Michael Lyons Wier's contemporary art objects display (view 2)

The Conservation Center welcomes the opportunity to work with art that present unique challenges. We have had the opportunity to build custom mounts and vitrines for many of our clients, including Koon’s Balloon Dog. Please come see our latest one at Booth 118 at EXPO CHICAGO this month!